CHICAGO — A lawsuit accusing Ald. Jim Gardiner of using his political power to harass and arrest a constituent is moving forward following a federal judge’s ruling Monday.
Benjamin George, a former 45th Ward constituent, sued Gardiner, ward superintendent Charles Sikanich, the city and seven police officers from the 16th District in November 2020, claiming the alderman falsely accused him of a crime, harassed him and had him arrested over a lost cell phone.
The alderman’s attorney tried getting the case dismissed last April, according to court records, but Judge John Robert Blakey ruled Monday that George presented enough evidence to support claims of malicious intent and conspiracy from Gardiner and his staffer.
Daniel Massoglia, one of George’s attorneys, said he was pleased with the court’s ruling and said it’s one step toward holding the alderman and the police officers accountable.
“We are pleased with the judge’s decision that he denied all of the defense’s motions,” Massoglia told Block Club. “I look forward to continuing litigation.”
The case now moves onto the discovery phase, which means Gardiner and other defendants will likely have to answer questions about the case under oath in a deposition, Massoglia said.
Gardiner and his lawyer Thomas Carroll did not return calls seeking comment. A spokesperson from the city’s law department declined comment, citing pending litigation.
George, who owned a construction and repair company based on the Northwest Side, said in the lawsuit that he found a cellphone inside a 7-Eleven at 6000 W. Higgins Ave. on Aug. 19, 2019.
He picked up the phone — which belonged to Sikanich — while checking out at the 7-Eleven and planned to take it to the local police station at the end of his day, according to the suit.
During the day, Sikanich informed his boss, Gardiner, that he lost his phone, and the alderman allegedly told Sikanich to report it stolen instead of lost, the suit claims.
George did not use the phone during the day and the phone did not receive calls or texts, according to the lawsuit. However, before George went to the police station, two Chicago police officers showed up at his apartment, where they “aggressively, profanely and threateningly” asked George’s roommate about the phone, according to the suit.
George was on his way to the station to return the phone when he received a call from his roommate, who told him the police were at their apartment, the lawsuit alleges.
Over the phone, George asked an officer if he should bring the phone home or to the station. The officer told him to bring the phone to the station, which he did, according to the lawsuit.
After officers left George’s apartment, Gardiner and Sikanich separately also visited the apartment, according to the suit. Both used disparaging language about George to his roommate, the suit alleges.
Once at the station, George, who is Romanian, was arrested and held at the district lockup for more than 24 hours, during which police belittled him and called him a “gypsy,” a slur, according to the suit.
The suit also alleges an officer told George, “I believe you. I wasn’t going to arrest you, but this person has power and I have bosses.”
Massoglia previously said George had no relationship with Gardiner or Sikanich, and could not say why they would make a false allegation, as the suit alleges.
The criminal case against George was dismissed at the first court appearance, but he has suffered from emotional trauma from the experience, which caused him to spend a week in a psychiatric hospital and ultimately forced him to move out of Chicago, according to the lawsuit.
George is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but the amount has yet to be determined, Massoglia said.
Sikanich is under investigation by the local division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after federal authorities seized a Steyr machine gun from him in August, according to ATF records.
The alderman faces two other lawsuits and a series of allegations that include withholding ward services from his critics, using foul language to describe women and other potential misconduct. In June 2021, six residents sued Gardiner and the city for allegedly blocking them or deleting critical comments on his Facebook page. The city was dismissed from the federal suit in January, but the litigation is ongoing against Gardiner.
In November, a business owner and Old Irving Park resident sued Gardiner for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights and for attempted retaliation after leaked text messages showed the alderman used city resources in a revenge plot against him.
The FBI, the Chicago Board of Ethics, the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General have launched investigations into Gardiner’s conduct in office.